In conversation with Patrick Deane

New principal sits down with The Journal to talk Student Choice Initiative, fossil fuel divestment and campus sexual violence

Deane sits down with The Journal to discuss a number of student issues.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

When Queen’s announced it would begin the search for its 21st principal, Patrick Deane was thrilled at the opportunity to put his name forward.

Leaving behind an eight-year tenure as principal of McMaster University, Deane has returned to Kingston, where he served as Queen’s Vice Principal (Academic) from 2005-2010, to begin his first term as the University’s new principal.

“Queen’s students are exceptional,” Deane said in an interview with The Journal. “It’s very exciting to work with students at this institution.”

‘A major challenge’

As principal, Deane inherited leadership of a student body anxious to see how changes to post-secondary education policy in Ontario will affect their experiences.

One change Deane said he recognizes as a “major challenge” is the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which mandates that students be able to opt out of incidental fees funding clubs, student societies, and programs that don’t fall within the government’s framework of essential services and fees.

“It does represent a major challenge as I can see, and the last thing we would want to see is essential aspects of that culture, which has been strong for students and made their experiences so wonderful, fall away,” Deane said.

While making it clear the University must comply with the province’s regulations, Deane emphasized the importance of collaborating with student groups to identify and solve potential issues.

“We are all on the same side. We all want to see that the student experience is as good as it can be,” he said. “The safety of students, the richness of their experience, their ongoing health and wellbeing is all really important.”

‘I can’t say whether re-opening the issue would be a priority for me’

Another controversial challenge Deane will have to contend with is calls from student groups for the University to divest its investment portfolios from fossil fuels.

The University’s three largest investment portfolios—the Queen’s Pension Plan, Pooled Endowment Fund and Pooled Investment Fund—currently have more than $230 million invested in the oil and gas sector.

In 2015, an Advisory Committee formed by former Principal Daniel Woolf concluded that Queen’s shouldn’t divest its holdings. Since then, the University’s investments in fossil fuels have been largely consistent.

“I don’t know where in the Queen’s conversation about this issue we are now, so I can’t say whether re-opening the issue would be a priority for me,” Deane said.

He added, however, that addressing climate change and reducing the University’s carbon footprint would be a major focus for him.

“I think the University has to be powerfully in support of an enlightened approach to climate change, and our scientists need to be on the cutting edge of work on that,” he said. “But I don’t know exactly what that means in terms of strategies.”

Deane said he wants to see the University be an example of positive change in all aspects.

“At base, I’m a person who does this work because I think universities are powerful agents for positive social change and development,” Deane said. “I want to see Queen’s as a massive contributor to global wellbeing.”

‘It will be a top priority for this office’

Queen’s received troubling numbers from the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey, which returned results in March.

Out of 20 universities to participate in the survey, Queen’s ranked second-highest for students who reported experiences of sexual harassment and fourth-highest for experiences of non-consensual sexual violence.

Deane called the issue “hugely important” and emphasized the critical significance of addressing the needs of survivors and the way in which cases are handled.

“It will be a top priority for this office,” he said.

For Deane, the broader issue now is how Queen’s can address sexual violence beyond simply raising awareness of its existence.

“I think it’s about culture,” he said. “I think you have to work really hard to ensure this is a culture in which there is no tolerance for sexual violence.”

Looking forward

“I do think we have a long history of providing a student experience that is actually unmatched anywhere else in the country,” he said. “What I want to achieve is to make sure that Queen’s is able to realize its full potential on all those fronts.”

Despite the pressures of starting a new job and facing major challenges, Deane called the move “invigorating.”

“The mental move to a new institution is exciting,” he said. “I’ve always found that.”

 

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